By Jan Pudlow
When casting director Ellen Jacoby injured her neck in a car accident and sued, a police officer couldn’t attend the trial to give his testimony.
So her Miami lawyer, Marc L. Brumer, got someone else to read the officer’s depo. Delivered in a monotone drone that put jurors to sleep, Brumer knew the power of the testimony was lost, yet he still won the case.
Jacoby — who has cast actors for Miami Vice and is now working on the movie version of the Broadway hit musical Rock of Ages — turned to Jacoby and asked: “Why couldn’t we get one of my actors to read this?”
In a flash, the idea was born to forge a partnership called Actors-at-Law, Inc.
Their ad reads: “Attn: Trial Attorneys — Don’t Put the Jury to Sleep! We provide professional actors as deposition readers at trial.”
Their logo depicts the “comedy” and “tragedy” masks sitting on the scales of justice.
For $200 an hour, with a two-hour minimum, lawyers can hire an actor to use dramatic voice inflection to deliver testimony that captures attention. They will also provide trial preparation for all witnesses at $300 an hour.
Brumer, who has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild since 1986, says he did a Toyota commercial that paid enough to put himself through law school and briefly flirted with an acting career before joining his father at Brumer and Brumer, P.A.
“I consider myself a movie director. I’m making a movie,” Brumer says of preparing a personal injury case for trial.
“If I have a lady with a horrible arm injury, and the doctor wants to talk over the phone, I say, ‘No. I need to look at you so I can tell whether you can sell to a jury or not.’ Some are great communicators and some aren’t. . . .
“We’re not talking about bringing people in to embellish. It’s amazing when an actor, a professional, reads something,” Brumer said.
He’s used an actor in a case to read the depo of a migrant worker.
“The actor read it in broken English. It was very powerful. We’ve had other instances where the insurance defense firm was going to trial and their doctor was not available. We got an actor who plays a doctor on the soaps to read.”
There are no Florida Bar rules that govern hiring actors to portray witnesses who are unable to attend trials.
Actors-at-Law, Inc., in business for five years, came as news to the leaders of the Bar’s Trial Lawyers Section. “I haven’t seen or heard of this in North Florida. Certainly a secretary or associate may be as good an actor as a real actor,” said Cliff Higby, outgoing chair of the Trial Lawyers Section, who practices in Panama City.
“It seems a question could be raised if a lawyer brought in a recognized celebrity actor for advantage. The judge has broad discretion to reign in this kind of activity. It probably wouldn’t be allowed in federal court. Interesting!”
The section’s new Chair Craig Gibbs, of Jacksonville, added: “Like Cliff, I haven’t seen this practice in my neck of the woods. Makes me wonder how much James Earl Jones would charge to read a depo in court. Clearly an advantage may be gained, but, again, it’s discretionary with the judge.”
Brumer said no judge or opposing counsel has objected, yet.
“I know there are a lot of ethical concerns. We’re not trying to do anything unethical,” Brumer said.
Asked how many clients they’ve had so far, Brumer said: “We get a lot of calls and have booked actors here and there. Ellen is so busy with big-time casting, and I’m working on my million-dollar case. It really hasn’t gotten that much attention.”
Brumer shared a letter from Howard Pomerantz, former president of the Ft. Lauderdale chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, thanking Jacoby and Actors-at-Law, Inc., for providing two actors — Tim Ware and Wendy Michaels — for doing “outstanding jobs” playing the roles of plaintiff and defendant in the group’s Masters in Trial program in 2008.
“Please send me your company’s fee schedule, as I will certainly want to consider using your services when the need arises,” Pomerantz wrote.
Reached recently at his Ft. Lauderdale law office, Pomerantz said so far he has not used the services of Actors-at-Law while representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice and product liability cases.
“I thought of them a couple of times, but always the case got settled before we got to that point, or there was someone well-situated to read the depo,” Pomerantz said. “I would consider using them. . . . It’s something more trial lawyers should be aware of.
“If you have someone who is not a good reader and not expressive, the jurors fall asleep. If you have someone who is convincing and delivers it in a way the jury is interested, it can make the difference between losing and winning the case.”
And if opposing counsel should come armed with an actor at trial, Pomerantz said: “I would probably ask the judge for an instruction that an actor is playing the role of the witness.”